Guardian writers’ predicted position: 3rd (NB: this is not necessarily Jacob Steinberg’s prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)
Last season’s position: 4th
Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker): 11-1
The generous take is Chelsea do not have to rush. Although they have made impressive strides under Frank Lampard, it is unlikely they will be strong enough defensively to challenge for the title this season. Inconsistency remains an issue and, given Lampard is still learning his trade as a manager, there are bound to be a few more stumbles from this entertaining but erratic side.
The transitional period is not over. Chelsea performed above expectations last season, qualifying for the Champions League despite having to deal with a transfer ban, and are still a work in progress.
Lampard saw the best and worst of Chelsea during the final weeks of an encouraging debut campaign. Whereas Chelsea were efficient when they secured fourth place by beating Wolves 2-0 on the final day, they were a mess when they lost the FA Cup final against Arsenal the following weekend and looked a long way from being capable of challenging the elite when Bayern Munich thumped them in the last 16 of the Champions League. “From having the ban we have missed out where other clubs have spent,” Lampard said after losing 7-1 on aggregate against Bayern. “I know where we can improve.”
The obvious place to start is in defence, especially as Chelsea have sharpened their attack with the signings of Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech and are poised to add Kai Havertz. Lampard’s side conceded 54 goals in the league last season, their worst record since the 1996-97 campaign. They made too many individual errors, struggled at set pieces and were vulnerable to counterattacks.
Part of it is down to personnel. Lampard does not trust Kepa Arrizabalaga, the most expensive goalkeeper in the world, and chopped and changed between Antonio Rüdiger, Kurt Zouma, Fikayo Tomori and Andreas Christensen in central defence. Thiago Silva has been signed to strengthen there but he turns 36 in September and may not find the Premier League plain sailing. César Azpilicueta can struggle against pace and the Spaniard’s deputy at right-back, Reece James, is inexperienced. The hope is Ben Chilwell will solve the problem position at left-back.
Lampard is entitled to point out that N’Golo Kanté, the best defensive midfielder in the world, was rarely available to protect the back four. Opponents found it too easy to run through midfield when Kanté was not alongside Mateo Kovacic. Although Jorginho offers calm on the ball, there are times when the Italy midfielder looks too ponderous to flourish in England.